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You Just Can't Quit
Jeremiah 20: 7-11
On July 4, 1952, on a fog shrouded morning, a young woman named Florence Chadwick waded into the water off of Catalina Island. Her sole intention was to be the first woman to swim the 21 miles from Catalina Island to the California Coast. Long distance swimming was not something that was new to her; for, she had been the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. However, that days' test, was one she had yet to face.
The water was numbing cold that day. Also, the fog was so thick that she could hardly see the boats in her party. Several times, sharks had to be driven away with gun fire. She swan more than 15 hours before she asked to be taken out of the water. Her trainer tried to encourage her to swim on, because they were so close to the coast; but, when Florence looked, all she saw was fog. As a result, she quit, less than one-half mile from her goal. Later she said, "I'm not excusing myself, but if I could have seen my destination, I might have made it!"
When I read that, I thought, that, many times, we too, face the same plight that this noted swimmer faced. We have no intention of failing, or quitting; however, because we can't see what's ahead of us, we often times do.
There is an old legend that tells of how the devil once advertised his tools for sale at a public auction. When the prospective buyers gathered, there was one tool labeled, "Not For Sale!" When he was asked why it wasn't for sale, the devil replied, "I can spare my other tools, but I cannot spare this one. It is the most useful tool I have. It is called "Discouragement!"
As I look around today, one of the saddest, most disturbing things that I see is that so many Christians are living in despair, defeat, and discouragement. No doubt, these are difficult day, in which we live, and many find themselves affected by various outside influences. As a result, they have no desire to power on, press on, or push on, and many inevitably just quit.
In the text before us, today, we see a man who is facing the same crisis in his life. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, is at a point in his life where it seems that he is a roller coaster of bitterness and belief, pity and praise; and, despair and delight. However, as we examine these verses, the prophet, speaking from his own experience, seems to convey to you and I, that regardless of what looms on the horizon of your Christian life, "You Just Can't Quit!" Briefly, notice:
I. THE INITIAL DILEMNA THAT HE FACED (v. 7-8)
As we examine these verses, we see that the prophet is facing a great dilemma. No doubt, his initial thought is to just throw in the towel, and quit, because:
A. HE FELT AS IF GOD HAD DECEIVED HIM
1. It doesn't take long to read the first part of verse 7 to see that Jeremiah felt as if God had deceived him.
2. As we examine the setting of these verses, we see that this is Jeremiah's first actual encounter with physical attack. It came in the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim, the king, when Nebuchadnezzar was on his way to Jerusalem.
3. The prophet had been preaching for 22 years, however, now he found himself in stocks, chains, and in prison.
4. Thus, he feels that God has turned the tables on him, and has deceived him. Notice the word "deceived" that he uses. The word "deceived" denotes being "enticed, allured, or tricked."
5. Thus, Jeremiah feels as if God has played a trick on him, and has turned out to be a "Benedict Arnold" because He didn't keep His word.
6. No doubt, Jeremiah is remembering the word of the Lord that came unto him in chapter 1, when God said:
"Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee to be a prophet unto the nations. Say not, I am a child; for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord." (1: 5,7,8)
7. However, now that he's in prison, he's saying, "God, what happened? What happened to your promise? You said that you'd be with me, but now I'm in these stocks, held a prisoner. You said that you'd deliver me; but, Lord you've deceived me!"
I think of how all of our Presidents have used a Bible in their inaugural address, except for one, our fourteenth President, Franklin Pierce. Just two months after he was elected President, he and his wife, and their eleven year old son, Benny, were involved in a train wreck outside of Concord, New Hampshire. Pierce, and his wife, were not injured, but Benny died in the wreck. Pierce just couldn't understand why God would allow that to happen in their hour of celebration. As a result, he was so bitter against God, that he refused to use a Bible in his inaugural speech.
I think of a story I once read of a little lady who survived the sinking of the Titanic, but her husband did not. One day, someone began to witness to her, and speak to her about God's promises, and she sharply replied, "Don't you talk to me about God. God went down with the Titanic!"
8. Have you ever found yourself at the place where you blamed God for your plight? Perhaps you, like Jeremiah, felt as if God had played a practical joke on you. Here, the prophet, actually charges God with lying to him, and taking advantage of him.
9. He's saying, "Lord, I didn't sign up for this! If you would have told me it was going to be like this, that would've been all right, but you didn't!" He felt as if God had enticed him, and tricked him. He Felt As If God Had Deceived Him!
B. HE FELT AS IF GOD HAD DESPISED HIM
1. Notice the last part of verse 7, and verse 8. Not only does the prophet feel that God had deceived him, but that He also has despised him. The word "mocketh", in the last part of verse 7, carries with it the idea of "being laughed at, or put to shame."
2. Thus, Jeremiah, feels like the one that everybody is looking at, and everybody is laughing at.
3. As you read this book, you soon find that Jeremiah's message was not a popular one. For, he pronounced judgment, and had "cried violence, and spoil."
4. Since the people couldn't handle his message, they did the most natural thing: they laughed at the messenger.
5. However, the prophet takes it as a personal vendetta, and automatically blames God. He says, "Lord, ever since I began to speak, I spoke the message that you told me to speak. But, your Word has made me the laughingstock of the town, and it is now a reproach unto me, and I wish that I had never heard it!"
6. Have you ever felt that way? You tried to serve God, be faithful, and committed to the cause; yet, people you work with, go to school with, or socialize with, just made fun of you?
7. Jeremiah feels as if he has been betrayed and belittled. He feels as if he has been vacated, and vexed. He feels as if he has been abandoned, and he's now all alone! He feels as if God had despised him!
Several years ago, a PBS program on the Library of Congress was aired. Dr. Daniel Boorstin, the librarian of Congress, brought out a little blue box, on which the label read: CONTENTS OF THE PRESIDENT'S POCKETS ON THE NIGHT OF APRIL 14, 1865! Immediately, the viewers attention was focused upon that fateful night when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Boorstin then proceeded to remove the contents of the box, of which, were five things:
*A handkerchief embroidered: "A. Lincoln"*
*A country boy's pen knife*
*A spectacles case repaired with a string*
*A $5 bill of Confederate money*
*Some old, worn newspaper clippings*
The newspaper clippings told of the great deeds of Mr. Lincoln. One of them actually reported a speech by John Bright which said that "Abraham Lincoln is one of the greatest men of all time!"
Today, that comment is common knowledge, but in 1865, millions shared quite a contrary opinion of Lincoln. The President's critics were fierce and many, who blamed of ripping their country to shreds by a cruel, and a costly war. As a result, Abraham Lincoln, sought solace and self-assurance from a few old, worn newspaper clippings, as he read them under the flickering flame of a candle in the Oval Office! 1
8. No doubt, the prophet, sought some sort of comfort for his grief. He felt that God had not kept His promise, and He Felt As If God Had Deceived Him, and He Felt As If God Had Despised Him. That was The Initial Dilemma That He Faced!
I. THE INITIAL DILEMNA THAT HE FACED
II. THE INNER DISTURBANCE THAT HE FOUND (v. 9)
As we observe verse 9, we not only see the initial dilemma that he faced, but the inner disturbance that he found. It seems as if we get a bird's eye view of the prophet's heart, and we see that:
A. THERE WAS A BATTLE WITH HIS HEART
1. In the first part of verse 9, we see the intense battle that is progressing within his heart.
2. He is at a place where, Ray Stedman says, "He is torn with inner tension, fearful of proclaiming the truth, because it subjects him only to ridicule and scorn; and, yet he is unable to quit!" 2
3. There is a "tug of war" being played on the battlefield of his heart, and he doesn't know what to do.
4. He is, at first, resolved to "sit down, and shut up," put his Bible on the shelf and not preach anymore.
5. However, he wants to quit, but he can't. He wants to be silent, but he can't. He wants to pack up and go home, but he can't. He is at war within himself, and there is a battle with his heart.
I remember reading of one of my heroes, J. Hudson Taylor, and one of his experiences in his early ministry. On an awful, stormy night in Birmingham, England, he was to speak at a meeting at the Seven Street Schoolroom. His hostess assured him that nobody would attend on a stormy night, and Taylor said that he had honestly debated whether it would be worthwhile to go, or not. Finally, after about 30 minutes of weighing it out, Hudson Taylor went, and found that less than a dozen people showed up. However, the meeting was one marked with unusual spiritual power. Half of those present either became missionaries, or became faithful supporters of the China Inland Mission for years to come. Hudson Taylor later said of the experience, "I realized that I must go on even if there is no one but the doorkeeper there!" 3
6. Possibly you are here, today, and you have just about resolved to give up, and quit. However, you're finding that it's not as easy to quit as you thought it would be, and you're in the same predicament this prophet was facing. He looked on the inside, the outside, the upside, and the downside, and all that he found that There Was A Battle With His Heart!
B. THERE WAS A BURNING IN HIS HEART
1. Notice the last part of verse 9. Not only do we see that prophet found a battle with his heart, but also, a burning in his heart.
2. He now realizes that he won't quit, because he can't quit. He won't be silent, because he can't be silent. He won't give up, because he can't give up, because there is an intense burning going on on the inside of him.
3. He describes this intensity as a "burning fire shut up in my bones." It's to the point of intensity that he was "weary with forbearing, and I could not stay."
4. The words "shut up" depict the picture of placing a lid on a boiling pot, totally suppressing the pressure. If it's held long enough, it will react, and it will explode.
5. Thus, he admits, that there is an explosion about ready to go off on the inside of him, that he can't control, he can't conduct, and he can't contain! He can't quit, because there is pressure mounting up within him, and there's a burning in his heart.
I once read the story of William Borden, a graduate of Yale University. In 1912, young William left one of the greatest family fortunes to become a missionary to China. He got as far as Egypt, and died of cerebral meningitis. As he lay on his deathbed, the 23 year old, said, "There is no reserve, no retreat, and no regrets, in my service the Lord. The road was hard, but I couldn't quit, for something wouldn't let me!"
I think of David Livingstone, the pioneer missionary to Africa. His wife died early in their ministry, and he faced stiff opposition from the Scottish brethren. He ministered half-blind, and he walked over 29,000 miles ministering to the African natives. As one reads his diary, they can't help but be stirred by his prayer:
"Send me anywhere, Lord, only go with me.
Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.
Sever me from any tie, except the tie that binds
me to your service, and your heart!" 4
6. So it is with the prophet. He tried his best to get out, but he couldn't help but to get in. There Was A Battle With His Heart, but There Was A Burning In His Heart! No doubt, there was a tremendous Inner Disturbance That He Found!
I. THE INITIAL DILEMNA THAT HE FACED
II. THE INNER DISTURBANCE THAT HE FOUND
III. THE INCREDIBLE DECISION THAT HE FORMED (v. 10-11)
As we move on to examine the prophets situation, we not only see the initial dilemma that he faced, and the inner disturbance that he found, but the incredible decision that he formed. Notice, as:
A. HE DECIDES TO REJECT HIS CIRCUMSTANCE
1. Verse 10 is quite a discouraging verse in itself. In it, we see that Jeremiah has no one that he can turn to. There is no one to whom he can trust, nor anyone to whom he can talk.
2. The bad report is before him "on every side", and even his "familiars", or his friends are whispering against him.
3. As Ray Stedman well described his situation, "There is terror on every side, and no doubt he felt as if the walls of his home were bugged." 5
4. Many are calculating, speculating, and anticipating that it's too much for him, and he will give in, give out, and give up.
5. I ask you, have you ever felt as if nothing was going right? That no one besides you was interesting in serving God? Regardless of where you turned, you felt that people were watching, and expecting your demise, your despair, and your defeat?
6. However, in spite of the gloomy front page headlines of the Jerusalem Press, we watch Jeremiah as He Decides To Reject His Circumstance!
B. HE DECIDES TO REBUILT HIS CONFIDENCE
1. Notice verse 11. Not only does the prophet decide to reject his circumstance, but he also decides to rebuild his confidence.
2. Here is a man who once thought that God had lied to him, and deceived him. Here is a man who once felt that it just wasn't worth it. Here is a man who once had given up on things getting better, and a man whose confidence had been greatly damaged.
3. However, this same man looks out, looks in, and looks up, and he remembers that "the Lord is with me!"
4. Thus, in that statement, not only is his circumstance being rejected, but his confidence is being rebuilt.
5. He now realizes that he can count on the Word that God had spoken to him. He now realizes that the way he saw it, was not really the way it was.
6. Thus, in the midst of this, he goes back to the beginning, to an unchanging God, and realizes that though it may have not seemed like it before, He is with him, and his confidence is rebuilt.
I'm reminded of the Rev. Frank Graeff, the great Methodist preacher, who was referred to as the "Sunshine Minister," because he was so happy and full of joy. He was a man who brought happiness to all he met. However, there was a time, when through a deep, heart-breaking experience, that his whole attitude became one of despair and defeat.
Eventually, he even began to doubt some of the great truths that he had preached through the years. One day, he felt that he could take it no longer, and had come to the end of his rope. In his hour of despair, he began to sing a song that had been born out of a similar experience that he was going through. It had been written by Joseph Scriven, 75 years before, the blessed words:
"What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear.
What a privilege to carry,
Everything to God in prayer."
Mr. Graeff dropped to his knees, and began to pour his heavy heart out to God. He said that the "peace of God flooded his soul," and he began to shout, "I know he cares, I know he cares!" Shortly thereafter, he took pen, and wrote the words:
"O yes, He cares,
I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief.
When the days are weary,
The long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares!" 6
7. Friend, you may be at the point that this blessed prophet was. You may feel as if there is no use, and that everything, and everyone is against you.
8. However, it's not as bad as it appears to be. It looks magnified now, but step back evaluate it, and calculate it, and take off your eyes off your situation, and put them on your Savior.
9. It would be a good idea to glean from Jeremiah's decision as He Decides To Reject His Circumstance, and as He Decides To Rebuild His Confidence. There was The Initial Dilemna That He Faced, and The Inner Disturbance That He Found; but, Hallelujah, for The Incredible Decision That He Formed!
In 1791, there was a rising young general by the name of William Wilberforce. He, for 10 years, had been in an intense battle against the slave trade in England. For 10 years, he had suffered defeat, after defeat; and, he too, himself, was at the point of total defeat.
Tired and frustrated, he opened his Bible and began to leaf through it. Out fell a small piece of paper that landed on the floor. As he picked it up, he realized that it was a letter written by John Wesley, to him, shortly before his death. Wilberforce read those words:
"Unless the divine power has raised you up. . .I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that abominable practice of slavery, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But, if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? Oh, be not weary in well-doing. Go on, go on, dear boy, in the name of God, and in the power of His might!" 7
Perhaps you're here today, and you feel as if you're on your last leg. You've tried, but it seems you've failed. You've served, but it seems you've not succeeded. You've prayed, but it seems you've not profited.
We have seen a perfect picture of a man who was at the point of total despair, discouragement, doubt, and defeat; and, The Initial Dilemma That He Faced, The Inner Disturbance That He Found, and The Incredible Decision That He Formed. Friend, I know that it may not look like it's worth it now; but, pull your chin up, pick your head up, and put your eyes up, because, "You Just Can't Quit!"